CHESTERVILLE — They’ve put the pedal to the metal for decades, and the owners of D&D Performance have powered their way into the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
Ed DeCooman and Roland ‘Rolly’ Doucet were inducted during ceremonies in Montreal earlier this winter.
“We started racing in 1969 as a team and raced until the mid-1990s” says Doucet, DeCooman at his side during a recent interview at their Chesterville shop.
The place is legendary for servicing muscle cars and dragsters alongside more pedestrian vehicles of everyday life. Rebuilt V8 engines festoon the inside of their garage, ready to roar upon the dynamometer with ferocious horsepower. Outside, it’s not unusual to see a vintage speed machine or hotrod awaiting service alongside a Honda Civic at the Main Street North operation.
Below, an engine on the “dyno” at the shop.
DeCooman explains his part in the stock-drag-racing duo involved the mechanical side of things — as pit crew to his partner behind the wheel. “He did all the driving,” DeCooman laughs, referring to Doucet, “and I did all the grunt work.”
They did have two cars, at one point, and both men did race during the early years, Doucet clarifies, before settling into their later roles.
And while their racing days are behind them, the business partners are still wrenching together after 50-plus years — 42 of them at their Chesterville location on Main Street North. It was their passion for racing that sparked the business in the first place, initially a Gatineau gas station and garage, leading up to their relocation here in 1978.
They got to know one another as young men when they worked at the same place, Doucet says. “We had the same interests and it went from there.”
“In other words, we took our hobby and made it into a business,” adds DeCooman.
Doucet took automotive mechanics at technical school in Montreal, passing along his knowledge to DeCooman, who learned on the job. Both became licensed mechanics upon moving to Ontario and taking the requisite test.
Doucet remembers buying a new car every year, transforming it into a racing machine for that season. “You would buy it, modify it, race it, and there was always a buyer for it.”
A Chevrolet car dealership sponsored the young racing team, ensuring good prices for the vehicles they purchased for competition. “And eventually, that dealer loaned me a car to drive on the street,” Doucet explains. “Because once we turned a car into a race car, it was no longer ‘streetable’. He would loan me anything off the lot.”
“In those days, the dealers lived by a creed of “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday,” he recalls. “If you were racing with any one of the Big Three, Chrysler, Ford or GM, you could do quite a bit with it. Well, we built a business from it.”
Their first race car was a 1969 Camaro equipped with a 427-cubic-inch engine.
“Rolly quickly gained a reputation for being extremely good at building this style of engine,” DeCooman proudly says.
“We started playing with these engines when not very many people were,” Doucet remarks, “because we were six nights a week we were taking them apart, making them better. We built a business on that. So when we opened our gas station, we had customers coming to us to get engines built.
“We had to find shops to do our machining work, but we could design and assemble them.”
The pair say they began putting “money and time” into their actual engine-building business after retiring their racers’ helmets, putting an addition on the shop in 2002. They still attend the races to be with their clientele, with DeCooman in particular at “one track or another every single week.”
“We have good contact with our customers because, even though we’re not personally racing anymore, we’re still very much involved, probably more involved than we were before,” Doucet observes, noting it’s bad for business when you beat your own customer on the track as a fellow competitor.
Costing as much as $30,000 — “It’s not a poor man’s sport,” concedes DeCooman — engines built by the duo have gone far and wide, right out to the east coast. “As far away as Newfoundland; we’ve built a couple for people over there,” notes DeCooman. “Quebec is quite good, northern Ontario is very good for us, and southwestern Ontario is very good for us … They’re all over the place.”
“A large part of what we’re doing now is restoration stuff,” he adds. Last summer, they built an engine destined for a 1960s Mustang like the one in the classic movie Bullet starring Steve McQueen. A high-quality “refresh” of a vintage car’s V8 can cost $10,000 or $11,000, suggests DeCooman, reporting a recent quote for another customer.
“There are very few shops like this anymore,” Doucet also points out. And the vintage American iron also appeals to an increasingly older demographic. “The average age of a guy coming through here now looking for an engine rebuild is over 50.… I just sold one of my cars to a 68-year-old heart surgeon.”
“On the weekend when we were inducted, there were no kids there,” adds DeCooman, pointing to the pewter mop on his noggin and quipping, “The lineup of people being inducted all had hair this colour.”
Courtesy photos below: The D&D Performance partners pose with family, friends and employees during a congratulatory gathering in Morewood last month.